Scotland tried three different systems during the 1-1 draw against Macedonia at Hampden.
Levein committed all three of his substitutes, two of them early in the second half. And Jordan Rhodes, whom Levein unfathomably started on the bench, finally saw action after 66 minutes.
All of it failed. In drawing against a side ranked 97
th in the world, on top of Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Serbia, Scotland’s 2014 World Cup campaign is already in tatters. The question now is can – or should – Levein survive in his job?
That will be a fraught discussion conducted within the walls of the Scottish FA. With two away games against Wales and Belgium just a month away, an immediate dismissal seems pointless - there will still be the hope that a miraculous turnaround can be achieved.
But Levein’s position, to this observer, looks untenable.
Two points from a possible six at home is a hopeless opening haul. “Progress, progress,” Levein has preached repeatedly to us.
But this so-called progress reminds of the Old Testament prophet who, in his disgust, said: “They keep saying ‘peace, peace’ but there is no peace in this land.”
Scotland were lucky to claim a point against the Macedonians. But for Allan McGregor, who made three fine saves, while also watching his post being thudded by Ferhan Hasani, this game would have resulted in a win for Group A’s so-called underdogs in Glasgow. Macedonia were fully worth Nikolche Noverski’s opener, plus at least one more goal.
I didn’t hang around to hear Levein’s post-match analysis. This is a brutal business in which only one currency – results – counts. In this context, the Scotland manager is failing.
Hampden was aggrieved once more that Rhodes – a goalscorer Levein has richly lauded these past 10 months – did not start. It remains a strange caution on the manager’s part on many levels.
Rhodes is no callow youth. He will be 23 in four months’ time – hardly spring-chicken territory. To hear Levein, you’d think this striker was not ready, and yet, never mind moving for £8 million over the summer, Rhodes has already started and scored for Scotland.
It beggars belief that, at home in Glasgow, and facing a team as modest as Macedonia, Scotland cannot accommodate such a player.
Having started in the usual 4-1-4-1, Levein changed Scotland to 4-3-3 then 4-4-2 in his endless search for “progress”. The best spell finally arrived when Rhodes came on for James Morrison after 66 minutes and Scotland at last had two strikers playing up front.
Levein shares a type of wariness and conservatism that seems to be ingrained in Scotland managers stretching back an entire generation. On Levein’s Scotland gravestone it will say: “He chose caution before adventure.”
The Scotland manager is now embattled, bringing much of it on himself. Personally, I like Levein, and admire his sense of conviction, but not when it makes him seem inflexible or pig-headed. He has been called this and a lot more in recent days, sometimes with justification.
Some things Levein just will not live down. On the absence of Steven Fletcher, a £14 million-valued striker, no amount of debate can obscure the fact that Levein, as manager, has been unable to resolve the issue. It remains absurd, and a kick in the teeth to the Tartan Army, that the Sunderland striker has not been involved in this campaign.
Behind the scenes we must hope that Levein has gone the extra mile to try to coax Fletcher back into his squad. But doubts remain that the Scotland manager is too proud to do that. In any case, does it matter now? Probably not.
It is nigh-on impossible to see Scotland turning this campaign around. Wales appear a disaster, losing 6-1 to Serbia, and Scotland might yet get a result in Cardiff. But Serbia, Croatia and Belgium are the group’s clear form horses.
Levein’s competitive record now reads: Played 10, Won 3, Drawn 4, Lost 3.
He is heading for the sack, it pains me to say.